Sidestepping the Paradox of Success

Raise your hand if you’ve heard (or read) me preaching the importance of finding a unique fitness niche in order to improve your chances of running of profitable gym.  If you’ve read more than one of my posts, you’ve likely got a hand in the air.

This time around I’d like to hit you with a little curve ball.  I want to discuss the potential pitfall that comes with successfully capturing a specific segment of our industry and becoming “the go-to guy (or girl)” in that area. 

I’ve just finished reading Essentialism by Greg McKeown, a book that was recommended to me roughly two dozen times before I finally pulled the trigger on picking up a copy of my own.  In it, McKeown discusses what he refers to as “the paradox of success.”  The paradox of success is what most people would call a good problem to have.  What most new fitness entrepreneurs fail to realize is that a good problem to have is still a problem.

According to McKeown, there are four distinct phases of the paradox of success. Here’s a look at each phase, and a description of how we handled the development of CSP during each step in the process.

Phase 1: Clarity of purpose leads to positive outcomes

The turning point in the story of CSP came back in the fall of 2007 when we chose to embrace our unexpected local reputation as “the baseball guys”.  Instead of running from this unofficial title in an attempt to position us as everything to everyone, we selected an untapped niche and began laying out a game plan for capturing it.

We put every high school ballplayer we worked with into a free CSP tee shirt on the day of the initial assessment.  We attended more spring and summer baseball games than I can count.  We networked our way on to the radar of the most influential personalities in the Massachusetts baseball community.  We began to make connections with local college coaches, MLB affiliated scouts, and anyone else with an opinion on the best way to develop a young baseball player. 

We hustled six to seven days per week for about a year and a half before deciding to take the liberties of actual days off.  We earned first mover advantage in the baseball-specific strength and conditioning niche. 

We had clarity of purpose.

Phase 2: The “go to” guys for baseball see increased options & opportunities

Increased opportunities initially translated to more foot traffic in our gym and a full assessment schedule.  The options began to roll in and people started floating ideas of opportunities that would pull us outside of the walls of CSP.

Come on out and warm up our team on game days!  Give an arm-care demonstration at our parent’s open house night!  Open a satellite facility in this building I own just a couple of towns over!  Partner with us to open a world-class baseball complex in Florida!  You should license the CSP training model!  Sell me a franchise!

Options.  So many options.

Phase 3: More options = More demands on time = Diffused efforts

I recently recorded an edition of The Fitness Business Experience Podcast where I mentioned that we’ve made more than our fair share of mistakes in nearly a decade of operation.  One of those tactical mistakes was jumping at the first satellite facility opportunity that presented itself, resulting in us spreading ourselves thin on resources.  We sent our first employee, Brian St. Pierre, to a hitting and pitching instruction facility just 20-minutes down the road to coach high school athletes two afternoons/evenings a week. 

This “project” lasted roughly 18-months before we opted to transition away from the opportunity and place our focus entirely on developing CSP’s business under just one roof.  McKeown would say that pursuing a satellite facility while our business was in its infancy was less of an opportunity, and more of a demand upon our time and energies that would lead to a diffusion of efforts.  He would be right.

Phase 4: Distractions undermine the clarity that led to initial success

Our brief foray into managing a satellite facility taught us the important lesson that without having rock solid systems in place, scaling your model quickly will only serve to exhaust your employees and convolute public perception of your brand.  We’d earned the chance to open this second spot because of the positive word of mouth that resulted from athletes experiencing our unique gym culture and training experience.  In hindsight, pursuing a growth opportunity simply because we could wasn’t a great excuse to do so.

As soon as we began spreading our existing resources over two locations, we began struggling to continuously deliver the quality service that had put us on the map in the first place.  Instead of hiring quickly and throwing more resources at what was trending closer and closer to sunk cost status, we chose to pull the plug.  In effect, we got out early enough to sidestep the full implications of the paradox of success.

How your gym can sidestep the paradox…

The most important thing you can do right now is to post your company’s mission statement and core values in plain sight and make sure to read them every day.  I’d imagine they are more focused on helping individuals than they are on scaling a brand.  Make sure your employees see them.  Make them visible to your clients.  When it comes to your company values, don’t just talk about them.  Be about them.

Unless your objective is to spread brand awareness all over the fitness world as quickly as possible, you should possess a singular focus on creating a training experience that the industry and community cant help but talk about.  It took us nearly eight years to open our second CSP location in Florida, yet I’d imagine that most of my readers were aware of our brand before that point.  We got on your radar by seeking “so good they can’t ignore you” status.

The key is to avoid jumping at what Jim Collins referred to as "the undisciplined pursuit of more" in his book How the Mighty Fall.  You should have no problem doing so if your actions reflect the words in your mission statement.  As I said before, success-related growing pains are a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.